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Criminals target smartphone users

Update: July, 13/2014 - 20:18

by Ha Nguyen and Le My

Hi-tech crime is on the rise, causing losses for individuals and organisations.

Nguyen Van Manh, 70, in Ha Noi's Hai Ba Trung District recently notified Ha Noi police that he was swindled out of his entire bank account, which contained more than VND700 million.

Manh told the police unit fighting hi-tech crime that one day in late June he received a phone call saying his family had to pay a VND9 million fee (more than US$400) for using home phone services.

Manh was confused why the charge was more than 100 times higher than the usual fee of VND70,000-80,000 per month. The telephone caller asked him to press a key to be connected with a police officer to make his case. When he did so, the man on the other end asked Manh to provide his mobile phone number so that he could help him.

The man later told Manh to talk with his boss, who said the police were investigating a trans-national drug ring led by a bank employee, Nguyen Huy Hung, who had illegally used a number of bank accounts to buy heroin.

"The 'police boss' asked me about my bank account so that they could help me protect it. I told them that I had VND720 million ($33,800) in it," said Manh.

The 'police boss' then asked the elderly man to supply his savings book and send all his money into the 'police account' for investigation.

Manh withdrew all his money and sent it to the account supplied by the 'police boss', who told him not to tell anyone, including his family members. He promised to send back the money the next day, but when Manh heard nothing from him, he notified the high-tech crime police.

In June alone, 16 people were cheated out of more than VND13 billion ($604,000), said a police officer who declined to be named.

The official said the callers were often in mainland China, Taiwan and Malaysia and used VoIP technology to make the international calls.

Nguyen Van Duong in Ha Noi's Cau Giay District recalled how one day a person called him telling that he was his friend Phong.

"Phong" asked him to send a mobile phone card worth VND200,000 ($9.3) because he was in a business call and didn't have enough money to buy a card.

Duong run out to a shop near his house to buy the card and immediately sent it to Phong, who responded that he needed another VND500,000 ($23).

"I began to have some doubts and phoned my wife about the case. She told me to stop sending money to Phong. She tried to call him again but she received no reply," Duong said. "If it wasn't for my wife, I would have lost VND500,000 more."

He phoned Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Group (VNPT) and police in his ward to find out how to get his money back.

An official from VNPT told him that he should never send money to a strange caller. The police said it would be very difficult to get any money back because such scam artists typically use many SIM cards, making it hard to trace the call.

"Internet providers and relevant agencies should co-operate with mass media to inform the public about the cheating tricks of hi-tech criminals so honest people like me can know how to avoid being cheated," Duong said.

Dam Quang Minh, director of FPT College, said that discovering such criminals was very difficult.

"In order to catch them, we must understand what technologies they are using. Based on that information, the investigating office should be able to track down their IP address, but in fact the IP address is often abroad," Minh said.

The Ministry of Public Security's Department for Investigation of Economic Crimes recently arrested eight suspects for stealing million of US dollars via credit card.

Le Quang Minh of the Institute of Information Technology said these suspects belonged to international criminal chains that had illegally bought and sold credit card information via the Internet for years. Using phishing, spyware, keylogging and other techniques, they stole individuals' email addresses, credit card information and personal identifying information such as addresses and mobile phone numbers.

Recently, the police discovered a case where 14,000 smartphones were bugged, bringing in more than VND100 billion ($4.6 million) for the criminals behind the act, said Ngo Tuan Anh, deputy chairman in charge of network security company BKAV.

Each day, smartphone users have up to VND3.9 million ($182) stolen from them through this technique, according to the latest survey by BKAV.

Anh said that while such criminals could be fined under the country's criminal code, the best way to prevent such crimes was for Internet users to learn how to protect themselves. — VNS

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